A promising ultrasound technique developed to observe inside living cells could be used for stem-cell transplants and diagnosing cancers. This breakthrough technique has been developed by the researchers at The University of Nottingham.
The new nanoscale ultrasound technique utilizes shorter-than-optical wavelengths of sound and might even challenge the optical super-resolution techniques that were awarded with the 2014 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. This new type of sub-optical phonon imaging offers precious information about the structure, mechanical properties and activities of individual living cells at a scale not accomplished before.
Advantages of ultrasound technique
“People are aware that ultrasound is a way of imaging inside the body — in the simplest terms we’ve engineered it to the focus where it can see inside an individual cell. Nottingham is now the only place in the world with this facility,” remarked Professor Matt Clark, who contributed to the study.
In traditional optical microscopy which uses light, the size of the tiny object you can see (or the resolution) is limited by the wavelength. For biological specimens, the wavelength cannot be lesser than that of blue light since the energy carried on photons of light in the ultraviolet and shorter wavelengths is very high that it can break the bonds that hold biological molecules together to damage the cells.
Optical super-resolution imaging also has unique limitations in biological studies. This is because the fluorescent dyes it uses are frequently toxic and needs huge amounts of light and time to examine and reconstruct an image which is harmful to cells. Not like light, sound does not contain a high-energy payload. This has allowed the Nottingham researchers to make use of smaller wavelengths and observe smaller things and get to higher resolutions without disturbing cell biology.
“The best part is that, similar to ultrasound on the body, ultrasound in the cells does no damage and does not require any toxic chemicals to work. Due to this we can observe that one day what is inside cells could be put back into the body, for example as stem cell transplants,” mentioned Professor Clark.
Image credit: University of Nottingham
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